New Canaan Society

Adventures in Faith

Here's My Schedule, As Related to Church Priorities

Sometimes I think it's helpful to know, very practically, what people do with regards to their faith.

I remember when I met Francis Chan wanting to just ask him, how much do you pray and when? Where do you go to pray. Real practical details!

So anyway, one thing I've realized about myself is that it's really helpful for me to have blocks of time scheduled in my calendar to pray, read Scripture, and be with other Christians so that God can work through all of those things.

Here's what that looks like right now:


Sunday

10:00a   Get to church 30 min. early to talk to people

All-day   Whitney and I literally block Sundays from work and big trips

Tuesday

6:30a        I hop on a 60 min. call to pray with guys from the Philly New Canaan Society Chapter

5:30p        I hop on a 45 min. call to talk life with New Canaan Society guys from across the country

Wednesday

All-day     I typically fast, replacing meals with prayer

Thursday

6:30a      I meet guys from my church for breakfast and to check-in on life, we also often read a book

6:00p     Monthly a group of guys talks life as part of the New Canaan Society Philly Chapter

Friday

7a   Once a month I grab breakfast with guys from the New Canaan Society Philly Chapter

11a   Every week I hop on a 1-hour call with a dear brother to talk about our ministry in common, writing about our faith journey


Above and beyond this, there is my own unscheduled time in Scripture, in prayer, and in fellowship, which has times of intensity and times when it is less so. I like that it isn't schedule or formulaic, but I also very much appreciate the discipline and rhythm that this schedule has provided for my faith.

By no means am I saying this is the right amount, for some its not possible, for others it wouldn't be enough. I yearn for a time when I do far more, Whitney and I are eyeing volunteering to at church and admire people who are more active in ministry or leading worship and all the extra time that entails. 

In closing, as I've alluded to in this recent blog post about building a deep church family, I think making these kinds of sacrifices of time are essential, not to mention Biblically sound, and I hope this is helpful and an encouragement to some of my brothers and sisters in Christ.

People Getting It Done, Legends

Charlie Strouss: Kingdom Realtor

Charlie and I met at a New Canaan Society gathering in Menlo Park. We realized we live a few blocks from each other, and that we were both going to be dads soon. We got the families together and worked out together once in awhile. That would be a pretty standard friendship in many circles.

Then, in 2011 we both attended the New Canaan Society San Francisco Weekend. Even more than that we were roommates at the Fairmont Hotel. We mostly had our own agendas over the weekend, attending different breakout sessions, sitting at different tables for dinner, and so on. After one particular talk by Francis Chan (which I wrote about here), Charlie and I both walked back to the room. When I got to the door he was coming down the hall from the opposite direction. We didn't say a word to each other, both stunned by what Francis had said. We went inside and realized we were both there with the intent to lay on the floor before God.

And so we did so together, and our prayers sounded a lot of like.

"I don't want to keep doing things, even praying and reading Scripture, my way."

"I don't want to leave here and be nicer to my wife for a couple weeks only to revert back." 

"I want you, God, to be the focus of my life! Nothing else matters, and I will give it all up for you."

When we were done, we knew that it wasn't a coincidence we had both come back to the room to pray, that we were roommates, that we had met. We acknowledged that we were not being fully open with each other. So right then and there, we agreed to hold each other more accountable by talking at least a few times a week, mainly to pray together, but also to see that we are in the Word, that we're being honest about our struggles.

And so we left that weekend with a new resolve, and ever since, we have kept our word. We began to pray together, often over the phone. We began to be more honest about our struggles and have more difficult conversations, even asking each other to share about our faults. At times, we've been challenged by the other, but we also know that our relationship is more about bringing God glory than having fun.

Within a couple of weeks of our time in San Francisco, we began to see "things" happen. Scripture was popping off the pages for us, and we were eager to share. Opportunities to share our faith became more frequent, and even though at times it wasn't received as we had hoped, we encouraged each other that being faithful in making the attempt was what matters. 

So, I'm writing about Charlie because he is a dear brother, he's invested in our relationship even when its not convenient. He calls me usually at the exact time I need to be called, and I know that is God working through him. He shares his real thoughts with me, not the sanitized version, and we wrestle with the issues of our day. But there's more to Charlie that makes him a Hands On Christian.

Charlie opens the office of his bluechip commercial realty firm early in the morning just about every Tuesday so guys can usher in to pray together. It's a simple act that requires commitment. That Tuesday morning group, called Legends, isn't a Bible study or a fellowship, it's just a group of guys who want to get before God in the morning together to intercede on behalf of the Silicon Valley. There are a handful of these Legends groups scattered around, and they all have the same burden to get before God in the morning to pray. Even more, Charlie didn't set out to start a prayer group--he just started to pray in his office with another guy. For eight months or more they prayed, and they occasionally prayed that more guys would join them, and out of that he decided to invite others. 

Last, but not least, Charlie and his wife are not shy to put their faith to work. For a few years, during the winter months they organized a large sleeping bag distribution to the homeless. They'd scout out their whereabouts, secure a wholesale buy of bags, coordinate donations from dozens of friends and families, organize a preparation day in a warehouse, and then oversee the delivery to sites all across San Jose. This is just one example of them putting their faith to work, among many. So its my honor to call Charlie a brother and to be able to put a few words down about him here. 

People Getting It Done

Why Francis Chan Is My Favorite Pastor

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When I was first coming into my faith, a guy told me to look up Francis Chan's YouTube videos. The first one I found (just below) had me watching his videos late into the night, very impacted by what he was saying, his emphasis on the profound meaning of Scripture often overlooked, and his sense of urgency.

When I moved to California, I learned that Francis lived in San Francisco, and it wasn't too long before I had a chance to hear him preach in person at a youth event. I realized then that what strikes me most about Francis is his urgency, the man does not want to waste a minute on this Earth. That, and a fear of the Lord, has driven this man deep into his faith, and his teachings have literally changed me as a person.

In November 2013, at the New Canaan Society San Francisco Weekend, Francis was set to speak again. I was eager to hear what he was going to say to a few hundred business guys packed into the opulent Fairmont Hotel atop Nob Hill. Francis looked to be under duress during his talk, he gazed to Heaven, at one point he knelt on the ground in prayer before the men. Here is what he said.

After this talk, I was struck silent. I walked back to my hotel room, not wanting to listen to another speaker or talk to anyone, I just wanted to get on the ground before God in prayer. I wanted to repent that I just keep doing things on my own terms, not surrendering to God the way I know he is calling me to do. As I walked to my room, coming from the other direction was my roommate, Charlie. 

Charlie and I entered the room one after the other, and I don't recall that we spoke a single word to each other. We put our things down, he in his separate room, me in mine. We soon realized we were both about to be on the floor in prayer, and so we joined each other. We called out to God and our prayers sounded similar. We prayed for maybe forty five minutes or so.

As we got up, we recognized there was a reason we were connected through this group, that we were sharing a room, that we both came back to pray. We offered to each other that while we are friends, we really only know about 70% of each other, at best. We agreed that we didn't want to leave this conference, and make nominal changes for a few weeks or months, to return to the same old way of doing things.

We made a commitment right then and there that we would work hard to get to know each other. And, more importantly, we would call each other every day or two to hold each other accountable to reading Scripture and to getting before God in prayer.

Over a year later, Charlie and I still talk a couple times a week at the minimum, pray together, reveal our struggles as much as anything, and encourage each other through life. There are times when we'd rather not reach out for all kinds of reasons, sometimes we are even annoyed at each other, but we both know that our relationship serves a higher purpose, that investing in the other isn't just about us, its about drawing closer to God, and glorifying Him. I think its fairly rare to have these kinds of real relationships among men, but I think when the Holy Spirit moves men get connected in a very strong way in relationships that bear great fruits.

I digressed there a bit into my personal story, rather than about Francis Chan and why he is "Getting It Done." Most recently, I had a chance to have dinner with Francis with about a dozen other guys. We were eager to hear what he's been up to with his "Crazy Love" project in the Bayview section of San Francisco. In a nutshell, Francis decided to start living church with a core group of brothers and sisters that are known by their love and their unity first, and then multiply from there.

He shared over dinner how they had multiplied a couple of times already, he told stories about how Christ's love is being expressed, and the way that everyday men and women are being raised up to teach and make disciples. In fact, Francis says he seldom preaches, since everyone is willing and able to preach and share together.

The question that came to my mind, which I asked Francis, is this, "Are the people who are coming into the church poor?" Francis said that they are. And then the follow-up question, "Can it work among the rich?" This is the million dollar question (ok, pun intended). So many of the disciple making movements that I hear about that have the characteristics of the early church we read about in Acts, people loving and caring for each other and being united, well, it mostly seems to happen among the poor. 

This lead to Francis talking about a project he feels led to, a partnership with a larger church in Silicon Valley called Abundant Life. The elders at Abundant approached him about going "all in" for the kind of love and unity Francis is seeking with Crazy Love. And so, Francis has an opportunity to try "it" on a larger scale, he's come on as an elder and is preaching there periodically. Needless to say, I'm going to be praying for his effort and keeping an eye on the progress for sure. Here is a sermon Francis gave at Abundant Life called "Giving God Our Best."

In closing, I just heard Francis talk, again at the New Canaan Society Conference in San Francisco. And while a good deal of his talk was directed at the men and movement of NCS, his boldness in speaking the truth, in only desiring to please God was evident. And, his message about defining the God we serve from Revelation Chapter 4 has already vastly changed the way I pray. As soon as the video is available, I'll post it here online. 

Don't stop Francis, fly far as on the wings of eagles brother!

People Getting It Done, Miracles

Jack Deere: Spirit Led Man

I first met Jack at the New Canaan Society, and in the hallway he spoke to me like a friend. His calm approachable spirit struck me; with people eager to speak to him, we had a leisurely five minute conversation. Me a young man who knew nothing of his journey, his books, anything.

After that conference, I learned that Jack had a son who went through Cityteam's addiction recovery program, was clean for awhile, then relapsed. When he did, he was discovered in a park by a wealthy Christian family in Silicon Valley that took him in to live with them. Somewhere shortly after that, he committed suicide. 

Jack's story intrigued me, and I've attended his workshops and have picked up his book, "Surprised by the Power of the Spirit," but admittedly, have not read it yet. When he preached at the NCS conference in Washington, D.C. the Spring of 2014, he laid his heart out before 700 men in an intimate and graphic way regarding the near death of his wife, his struggles before God all the while, and now his care-taking of her. 

Currently, I see Jack is posting about caring for Leesa on a Caring Bridge site here. Jack is a soldier who's wrestled with his faith publicly, he's stared death in the face, he's pastored churches, he's cared for many, and I see a man who is bearing himself naked before God, and before others to the glory of God. 

Adventures in Faith, Most Read

God Gave Me A New Brother

While attending the New Canaan Society 2013 Washington Weekend, I had a thought to invite a guy to attend with me the following year. He kept coming to invite. 

I left awash in a sea of new ideas and yet the thought to invite this guy stuck with me. The conference was a year away, I wasn't even sure if I would go again, the cost is over $1,000 and I was not in a position to pay for this guy and I didn't want him to have to pay either. Finally, I wasn't so sure how he'd feel amongst 800 guys who raise their hands in worship of God while singing and tend to be very transparent in their conversations. All of these were not small details, and yet I decided to invite him anyway expecting God to work out the details if it was his will.

When I did invite him he said he was interested, so I told him not to worry about a thing, that I'd take care of it all. Knowing he was in the military I applied for him to get a scholarship. The conference planners said they'd know closer to the date if someone would pay for him. Months passed and as the conference came back around I learned that someone would pay his full fee to attend.Praise God!

So we were all set to attend together and share a room and it was going to be a great chance to get to know this guy better. The day before the conference I drove to meet him, and right away I could tell his family was beyond busy, organized chaos even. Not only did he and his wife have two young children, they both worked in high-level demanding jobs and were both getting a Masters degree at the same time. So it was understandable that they were often running at 100%.

As we drove to the conference together, I could sense that it would take time for this guy to wind down, with everything that was going on in his life. I wondered if we'd get a chance to really connect on a heart level. Even more, I could feel a sort of pull to keep him away from the conference altogether. 

We arrived, had dinner together, and settled in for the night well enough, but without "breaking the ice" to deeper conversation that I desired. Even more, I knew he was getting texts that were concerning him and had him contemplating leaving the conference. 

The next day something happened that changed our trajectory. We listened to Erwin McManus preach a great sermon.

When he was done, Dudley Hall stood up to transition to the next speaker. Before he did, he said he had a sense to stop and pause and give guys a chance to stand up and be ministered to if they needed it. With his invitation, the guy I was with stood up right next to me. I was caught off guard but I stood up next to him and put my arm around him. Soon a few other guys huddled around us and we prayed together. Several of us were choked up with tears.

From the moment we sat down, I could tell everything was different. Our conversation had a lighter quality to it. We snuck off to talk more personally. At a reception later that night, I saw this guy talking amongst a small group and when i walked over to listen in, I heard one former war veteran encouraging him to let go of some of what he had encountered at war. I knew that these were divine connections being made. 

That same night, as we laid down to bed rich conversation ensued, in fact, we stayed up until after 2 in the morning talking about our faith in Jesus, questions, things that don't always make sense, our perspectives. It was amazing and I was so blessed to see our relationship open up even more. 

As the conference came to a conclusion, I was full of emotion over this dear new brother, not just a friend now but someone with whom we had discussed the depths of our hearts. We worshipped the King together, made new connections, and we left feeling as though we had a few new ideas to consider. Miraculously, this guy even shared with me that he felt as though he was healed in some way over the weekend.

And yet, having gone to these things before, I knew that it can be a challenge to go back into a busy home from a "mountaintop experience" to a spouse and kids who have missed Dad. Even more I believe these reconnections can be wrought with attack from the enemy to prevent unity and progress. So I prayed that this guy would find a way to get away from his busy schedule to spend intimate time with his wife, share some of his experience, and even bring her to the mountaintop too. I asked my wife to pray the same thing, and we were astonished when just a short time later, we saw that this couple had posted online that they had found a Christian retreat center to visit in the mountains where their pets and children would be cared for so they could connect one-on-one. My wife and I were so excited about this announcement.

Going into this conference, I thought in some way that I was maybe driving some kind of progress, that I would be responsible for getting us there, diving into the heart issues, cultivating the relationship. Looking back, I can see that yes, there was a role for me to make and follow-up on the invitation, but everything was out of my control and firmly in God's hands. After the conference, the things I thought I might do to keep us connected, this guy beat me to every one! He suggested that we talk regularly to pray, he's sent me notes, small gifts, he's inquired about life even though we live in opposite sides of the country. It reminded me that God draws people to himself, the Holy Spirit teaches, my role was just to be obedient to one little piece of the puzzle to make the invitation and follow through to get us there.

Adventures in Faith, Miracles, Most Read

I Was Healed Over A Gin & Tonic

By His wounds, we are healed.
— Isaiah 53:5

Maybe like me you've wondered why you don't hear about or even see people getting healed. Jesus did it, so did his disciples, so what's going on these days that's preventing it from happening around us?

I'm here to report that people are still being healed, and I know this because I am one of them!

I was surveying the room while sipping a gin and tonic at the 2013 New Canaan Society Washington Weekend. I was looking for a familiar face when a young Naval Academy Cadet stepped up to say hello. We got to talking and soon an older man walked up to say hello to the cadet. Then another cadet joined our little circle of four. 

After the cadet and the older man exchanged greetings, the man looked at me and introduced himself as a healing pastor. To this I jokingly replied, "really, that's interesting, any chance God told you to heal my neck?" 

The man with the cane looked at my inquisitively, and he asked me if there was something in my life that was a pain to me, maybe a soured relationship. At the time, I had been struggling to see eye to eye with a someone and so I mentioned that, feeling slightly foolish that I had made a joke. 

He asked if we could pray together, right there. Sure, I said, so the man, who was now known to me as Reverand Nigel Mumford, put his hand on my shoulder and told the cadets to do the same and he began to pray.

While he prayed, he asked me a few questions, specifically about an area of sin in my life, and he asked me if I realized it was forgiven. I said yes, and he asked me to really believe that and repeat it with him. I did.

Then he asked me if I had taken a train into town, and if I was struggling with lust. I said that didn't resonate with me. He concluded his prayers, asking for healing. When he was finished, as we stood around, one of the cadets had a sheepish look on his face, and he piped up that he had taken a train to the conference, and that on the way he was talking to a woman on the train, and he had been tempted to leave to meet up with her. 

While this cadet talked I quietly rolled my head around to see if there was any chance my neck was healed. For several years it was such a constant low pain that I just became used to it. And whenever I rolled my head in circles as my ear touched my right shoulder there was a crunching popping sound at the same spot where I felt a deep strain. I'd had it worked on by massage therapists, tried chiropractors, bought and hung on an inversion table, and more--nothing worked. 

I couldn't believe it at first, by my head rolled smooth as if it was on a new set of ball bearings. I snuck off and made my way into the next room to grab a seat for dinner, rolling my head the whole way. Could it be possible? But how?

All dinner long I kept trying my neck out, in quiet disbelief. Smooth as could be. Still, like many miracles in the early days of my walk with God, I didn't see it right away as a miracle. I realize that sounds dumb to write, but I was just skeptical. And, in fact, a day or two later, the crunching came back ever so slightly. At that point, I thought that maybe I just needed to believe in God more, and I prayed and fasted to tell God that I really did believe. And the problem went away, and it has stayed away ever since.

Once it sunk in that I'd been healed, it changed me and the way I read Scripture, the way I pray, the way I believe in God. Stories of healing were received by me not with skepticism but rather an internal praise to God that it was likely true and even if it wasn't I know He is healing people all the time. 

Like all things in God's Kingdom, there are no formulas, so we will never be able to go out and heal people en masse, not until Christ returns that is. But we do have the option to believe and to listen to God for promptings about how and who to heal. That alone has since led me to many other encounters with healing, which is just an incredible way to live life. 

By the way, I later looked up Reverand Nigel Mumford, and sent him a note to thank him for what he did with my neck. You can follow him and his work online here: By His Wounds Ministry.

Adventures in Faith

God Is Not Always Efficient

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"Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” John 7:38

As I was driving into Washington D.C. for the New Canaan Society & Wilberforce Conferences, I called Michael, who I was set to room with for the night. Michael had planned for a nap, he said, and my arrival was set to be right in the middle of it, so would I mind delaying a bit. "No problem," I responded; and I thought to catch up on work in the business center. Minutes after the call with just a few miles to the hotel, I found myself driving along beautiful Rock Creek. I felt like I should pray at that moment, so I pulled off the road, hopped down the bank, and found my way to a large rock in the middle of the creek. There, I threw up my hands to God and admitted to Him that my heart was not "in" these conferences...I saw them as a work obligation, not as a chance to praise and glorify Him. As I sat there feeling spent, I told God that I talk enough and would He  please put something on my heart...teach me! Minutes passed by...so did joggers...I soaked up the sun and the sound of the rushing water. Then, right before me, a great message was delivered in the form of two currents that ran counter to the creek. Literally, two sections of water ran back against the flow--literally uphill--to create a small pool right at my feet.

As I saw this I received with it the lesson that God's design is so high, so Holy, so Perfect, that it must be trusted fully. God is in control and, most important, it can be terribly inefficient in a worldly sense. In the end, the creek runs exactly where God wants it to run. Holding up efficiency as a grand measure, as I often do, was not an across-the-board virtue, at least in God's design, that much was clear. This came all at once in a remarkable way, so much so that I took out my phone and videotaped the scene.

This was to be a private lesson just for me but then on the last night of the conference Michael introduced me to a friend of his who spoke about his difficulty in always wanting to be efficient. I found myself blurting out that I think God gave me a lesson for him, and at the risk of looking foolish, I showed him my little creek-side video. It resonated with him for sure, but there watching next to him, Michael remarked that it had a strong application for him too. The next day, as we talked more, Michael added that perhaps this story should be shared with our team at work at an upcoming retreat.

I have taken the core message from this day to heart, that I must focus my vision on God's design and not worldly design, and certainly not on what appears most efficient. I have since balanced research and strategy development with seeking God's will in prayer, fasting, reading the Bible, and seeking council from other believers. As a result, I have become more patient, understanding, and gentle in handling times when I face inefficiency.

Adventures in Faith, Miracles, Most Read

Miracle Boy: Ben Pessah

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Through the Legends group in Menlo Park, I learned about a tragedy where a young man named Ben was shot in the head in San Francisco at a Halloween party. It turns out that Ben was friends with a colleague of one of the guys in the prayer group. Actually he was friends with a colleague of the host of the group, and that colleague, knowing that there was a group of men who came to pray in the office Tuesday mornings, asked the group to pray for Ben, who was in deep trouble.

I got a text while at the New Canaan Society weekend retreat in San Francisco, just a day or two after the shooting, that invited a group of guys to go to the hospital to pray for Ben. A car picked us up and off we went to pray for a young man none of us knew personally. On the way to the hospital we received a text from the colleague that Ben's condition had worsened, there was some kind of infection so that he was put into a unit we could not enter. The best we could do was pray in the hotel lobby.

And so we entered the hospital, got as close to Ben as we could in the Intensive Care Unit, and we began to pray. Pastor Shodankeh Johnson was with us--a powerful man of prayer I wrote about here--and he led us in prayer. We had prayed for five or ten minutes when a few young adults walked by us. I can't recall how the exchange happened, but we learned that among the group were the siblings and a close friend of Ben. We shared that we were praying for him, and they said they might be able to come back later to have us go in to see him. 

We prayed maybe ten minutes more, and then we left and went back to the retreat. Then the amazing reports began to trickle in...

First, an email from the colleague that said,

"Great report.  The initially diagnosed "highly contagious bacterial infection" somehow"came up negative" today."  

Then, a few days later, a note:

"a good report re Ben this afternoon. Fluid in the lungs receding. Doctors are optimistic on his prognosis!!!"

A week or so passed, and another note:

"Thank you so much for your prayers and support!"

I am so happy right now I am literally crying. Ben is now awake and is able to move around. His voice is faint (given all the tubes he has had for the last several weeks) but he is able to comprehend and keep conversation! The power of prayers.

I cannot express how thankful, happy, and relieved I am. I have so much to be thankful for this thanksgiving.

Please pass on my thanks to your prayer group and the priest that went to the hospital.

Then, we received an update that the press was beginning to cover this miracle: 

Check out the links below. It's not only us who are declaring this a miracle! Local news is also reporting on Ben's recovery.

Man's miraculous recovery from coma

Holiday Miracle as Man Awakes From Monthlong Coma